Finding a voice: The desire for communication in Eudora Welty's "A Curtain of Green and Other Stories"

Reine Dugas Bouton

Abstract

In this A Curtain of Green and Other Stories , Welty addresses the central issue of agency as she explores narrative strategies. The quest for agency is a power struggle in which all of her characters become involved. Welty attempts to discover where authority is grounded by experimenting with the dynamic of voice and telling and hearing a narrative. She contrasts ineffective and effective narratives to illustrate the difference between dominant and marginalized individuals. She seems to be searching for the best way to depict authority. Finally, she determines that people become empowered by words. Welty's stories focus on the author or narrator as authority, on the unreliable narrator, on multiple narrators, on male, female, and black storytellers. Ultimately, Welty grounds authority with the speakers who have found an alternate, non-dominant form of discourse that allows them to be heard. Few characters have found this alternate discourse with which to articulate their lives: Welty's black characters come closest to finding the elusive voice crucial to communication. Most characters fumble along and increase their isolation through their inability to communicate. Through her characters' missteps, Welty explains the ways in which empowerment escapes characters who cannot form a cogent, convincing narrative. Welty reveals her own quest for authorial voice in One Writer's Beginnings , an autobiographical reflection, where she writes of her growth as a young woman and writer who moves through the phases of "Listening," "Learning to See," and "Finding a Voice." She writes, "I would say I have found my voice in my fiction" (111). However, few of her characters move through the same stages of self-discovery; instead, they are stifled and ineffectual, like insects tapping at the ceiling. Welty's characters in A Curtain of Green want to be heard. Throughout this collection Welty explores the problems of communication and storytelling and reaches dismal conclusions. Her characters attempt, through signifying or silence, screaming or equivocating, to be heard from their places in society's margins.